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A Beginner’s Guide to Alberta Politics II

Posted on19 March 2015 | 0 comments

nixonprentice
Blogging has been sporadic of late, but with Alberta barrelling towards an election, now is likely a good time for another Alberta Politics FAQ.


When will the next Alberta election be?

Alberta’s fixed-ish election date legislation calls for a vote between March 1st and May 31st, 2016. Prentice, being a true reformer at heart, has said he will respect this.


Really?

Ha ha. No, of course not. Most expect an election call to immediately follow the March 26th budget.

Alberta’s fixed election date law has proven to be about as binding as Alberta’s balanced budget law.


So who’s going to win the election?

The PCs.


Well, yeah, that seems likely, but isn’t there a chance…

No.


But surely if there are a few more “blame Alberta” moments, and…

No. Not one of the opposition parties is even pretending they’re fighting for anything but second place.

This election was over the moment Danielle Smith decided the election wasn’t worth fighting.


So why did Danielle Smith cross the floor?

A year ago, Alison Redford was under fire for spending $45,000 of taxpayer funds for a charter flight back from Nelson Mandela’s funeral (plus $3 for headphones). And because she spent thousands to fly her daughter and friend on government planes. And because she wanted to spend government funds on a private penthouse suite for herself in Edmonton. And because she had her staff create “ghost flyers” so that she wouldn’t have to sit next to the proles on her flights.

It just proves the old saying that governments tend to grow out of touch during their 13th consecutive term in power.

Exit Redford. Enter Prentice.

Prentice quickly announced two popular policies:

1. Scrapping an unpopular plan to redesign Alberta license plates.

2. Not being Alison Redford.

While this gave the PCs a jolt of life, there were still storm clouds on the horizon:

1. Prentice was leading a 43-year old government which had barely escaped defeat two years earlier.

2. With oil prices tanking, he would need to raise taxes or cut services in his first budget.

3. In one of his first leadership tests, he completely bungled the issue of Gay-Straight Alliances in schools. His compromise would have forced teenagers to go to court if a school board said no. His cold “rights are never absolute” response left many irate. “Maybe that should be on the license plate” tweeted Rick Mercer.

By showing a deft ear, Prentice had effectively torn up the “Wildrose are bigots” card he no doubt intended to play during the next election.

But hey, Prentice had an insurmountable 6-point lead in the polls. And he managed to hold 4 PC seats in by-elections. I mean, really, what chance did Danielle Smith have?

So, down by 1 goal in the second period, Danielle Smith concluded the situation was hopeless, and she gave up.


What now for the Wildrose Party?

The Wildrosers will select a new leader on March 28th, at which point they’ll have a day or two to print the signs, draft a platform, record commercials, round out their candidate slate, and find a bus that doesn’t cause us all to giggle.

Three candidates are contesting the leadership:

You may know Drew Barnes as one of the “Wildrose 5″ who did not defect.

You may know Brian Jean as the former backbench CPC MP who sent crossword puzzles about himself to his constituents (what’s a 9-letter word for excessive preoccupation with ones self?).

You may know Linda Osinchuk if you are related to Linda Osinchuk.

Still, even though they are now little more than a fringe group of angry right wingers, the Wildrose Party still said “we’re too good for you, Rob Anders“. Which shows they have higher standards than the federal Conservatives, if nothing else.


And the Liberals?

They’re also leaderless, after Raj Sherman abruptly resigned last month. They won’t be selecting a permanent leader until after the election, but it’s not like they’ve had much success with leaders lately, so why not?


So the opposition parties are all leaderless heading into the election?

You’re forgetting about the NDP, which is understandable. But Rachel Notley is an impressive politician.

Still, the NDP are non-factors outside Edmonton – they failed to crack 4% of the vote in any of the three Calgary by-elections last fall. Those were the same by-elections that caused Danielle Smith to thrown in the towel, and she got 9 times as many votes as the NDP.

And with the divided vote on the left, it’s hard to imagine the NDP taking more than 6 or 7 seats in Edmonton.

Still, that will likely be enough to make Notley leader of the opposition.


Yeah, vote splitting…it doesn’t really make sense for Alberta to have 2 parties to the left of the PCs does it?

Oh, you are not going to like what I have to tell you next.

The divided left has been a problem in Alberta for years. So progressives looked at the situation and reached the only logical conclusion as to what was needed: A third progressive party.

Enter the Alberta Party. After a lot of listening and a lot of tweeting, the Alberta Party earned just 17,172 votes province-wide last election.

So, at least those vote splitting concerns proved unfounded.


Well then, what’s this about Laurie Blakeman working to unite the left?

Last week, Blakeman announced she had been nominated by the Liberals, Alberta Party, and Alberta Greens (yeah, there’s a fourth party on the left) as their candidate in Edmonton Centre.

While I applaud Ms. Blakeman for this step towards uniting the left, this is about as small a step as one could possibly take. Step is likely too strong a word. Maybe inching? It’s barely a new development, as neither the Alberta Party nor the Greens ran against Blakeman last election. In 2008, the two parties earned a combined 514 votes in Edmonton Centre. I guess having their logos on her lit makes for nice symbolism, but this isn’t exactly the Wayne Gretzky endorsement.


So basically you’re saying that with a long time, scandal-plagued government battling an economic collapse, the opposition is leaderless, infective, and divided.

Is Jim Prentice the luckiest guy in the world?

Yes. Yes, he is.


Lawrence Toet – Great MP, or the Greatest MP?

Posted on11 March 2015 | 1 comments

toet-terrorist-mailout

Communications

Posted on9 March 2015 | 0 comments

Here’s a fun exercise for aspiring communications directors out there. Complete the following sentence, in a way that isn’t offesnive: “I’m going to put this in terms of colours but it’s not meant to be about race…”.

Now try that, using the words “whities” and “brown people”.

2014 Person of the Year

Posted on27 December 2014 | 1 comments

Every December, I name a “Person of the Year” – the individual who left their mark on Canadian politics over the past year, for good or for bad. Below is a list of recent choices:

2013: Rob Ford & Naheed Nenshi
2012: Allison Redford
2011: Jack Layton
2010: Rob Ford & Naheed Nenshi
2009: Jim Flaherty
2008: Stephane Dion
2007: Jean Charest
2006: Michael Ignatieff
2005: Belinda Stronach
2004: Ralph Klein

I’ve never picked Stephen Harper because, duh, obviously the Prime Minister is going to have an impact on politics. And 2014 was no exception. In a year which was very much the prelude to the 2015 election, it was inevitable that Harper would be front in centre – would he call an early election? Would he take a walk in the snow? What would he do with the surplus?

So if you strip Harper away, who does that leave?

The attacks on Parliament Hill stunned the country and will not be soon forgotten, but I doubt terrorism and security will be the defining issues of the next election. Kevin Vickers deserves every honour we can bestow but we’re singling out individuals who made a political impact, not heroes.

The death of Jim Flaherty was another tragedy that exposed the human side of politics. But with the exception of Flaherty’s doubts on the merits of income splitting, Joe Oliver has largely continued on the course his predecessor set.

The real world also cast its ugly shadow into the surreal world of Toronto municipal politics, with Rob Ford’s cancer diagnosis. Although John Tory winning something is a small miracle, he was elected precisely because he won’t inspire national and international headlines. So expect his impact on the national scene to be rather muted in the coming years.

So we’re left looking to the provinces for our person of the year. And there are no shortages of candidates.

The implosion of my 2012 Person of the Year Alison Redford was breathtaking, and might very well be the deathblow to Canada’s longest serving government…Oh wait. Who’s that riding into town on a horse to save the day? Why, it’s Jim Prentice. In only a few short months, Jim Prentice has taken the PCs from death’s door to a point where they are basically guaranteed to govern until 2020. Obviously enough, one of the all time great capitulations by Danielle Smith helped. The only thing holding me back from naming Prentice as my Person of the Year is that these “out of the ordinary” events have become rather ordinary in Alberta. As the cliché goes, these are just the sort of things that happen to governments during their 12th term.

Elsewhere, the Manitoba NDP and Newfoundland PCs are in the process of imploding, and seem destined for defeat unless they can find their own Jim Prentice. New Brunswick said hello to a new Premier, and PEI said goodbye to theirs. In Quebec, Philippe Couillard‘s victory doesn’t feel so surprising, but we forget how certain everyone was of a PQ victory. One PKP fist pump later, and no one is talking about another referendum.

The story was very much the same in Ontario. Which brings us to the Woman of the Year:

wynne jog

Although Kathleen Wynne led wire-to-wire, her victory was far from certain. The Liberals were going for a fourth mandate, and many die hard Liberals privately acknowledged they didn’t really deserve re-election. Baggage has a way of building over 10 years, and Wynne did not enjoy Prentice’s ability to come in as an outsider with clean hands. Hudak and Horwath both had paths to victory, and a scenario where the Liberals got squeezed to third place wasn’t outside the realm of possibility.

Yet Wynne was bold, and proudly progressive. Her opponents certainly made life easier for her, but she was a rookie against two leaders who had done this before. And she won. Decisively.

Though many in Ontario would disagree, Ontario is not Canada. Yet behind the scenes, the Ontario election served as a testing ground for the federal parties, and the lessons learned will be applied federally. Mulcair’s sharp turn to the left this fall was no doubt a response to the backlash Horwath saw for running to the right of the Liberals. And the Tim Hudak campaign of 2014 will serve as a cautionary tale for decades to come.

Since her win, Wynne has inserted herself into the national dialogue in a way Ontario Premiers have been shy to do in the past. Kathleen Wynne may not look or sound like Danny Williams or Ralph Klein, but she appears eager to assume the title of chief antagonist to the Prime Minister. Regardless of whether or not she ever gets her dinner date with Stephen Harper, she’s a player on the national stage. That will matter if Ontario turns into a battleground in 2015, as most expect. On pensions, on pipelines, on the environment – expect Wynne’s voice to be heard not just in Ontario, but nationally.

The Wildrose Shrivels

Posted on16 December 2014 | 3 comments

Prepare to be assimilated - resistance is futile. Danielle Smith joins the Borg.

Prepare to be assimilated – resistance is futile. Danielle Smith joins the Borg.

It’s being spun as a “reconciliation”, but if reports are to be believed, it’s very much the Wildrose rebels crawling back to their former comrades and begging for their political lives. In exchange for blowing up their party, Danielle Smith and a half dozen MLAs will be given seats on the government benches and a Jim Prentice endorsement for their local PC nomination. Added to this are a few token “concessions” to provide cover: No sales tax; A list of infrastructure priorities; A commitment to teaching the “3 Rs” in school. Bold stuff.

I guess once the PCs agreed to keep “Wildrose Country” on the license plate, there really weren’t any big battles left worth fighting.

The great irony is that a party created to give the grassroots a voice is trying to self-immolate in the least grassroots way possible. The McKay-Harper merger may have been negotiated in the backrooms, but it was approved by over 90% of both party memberships. In this instance, Smith and her MLAs have set the house ablaze and run out the back door. Sure, members are welcome to try and rebuild, but the reality is the Wildrose is unlikely to become much more than it was before Smith brought the party to relevance – a few angry men screaming on the fringes.

As the federal unite the right movement showed, there are times when principles must be compromised for the sake of pragmatism. There may have been fundamental differences between the Alliance and PCs, but they recognized the alternative to merger was another decade of Liberal rule. You could accuse them of being in it for power, but it was still power driven by purpose.

Here? Suffice to say, Danielle Smith did not do this to derail the Raj Sherman juggernaut. After all, progressives may be the only group in Alberta more dysfunctional than the Edmonton Oilers. Their solution to the vote split on the left has been to create more parties on the left.

Indeed, while the left had zero chance of winning the next election, the Wildrose were still very much in the game. Polling this fall showed the Wildrose and PCs within a few points of each other, a far cry from the 10-30 point leads Alison Redford enjoyed after taking the leadership. The Wildrose admittedly under-performed in fall by-elections, but the Jim Prentice honeymoon is not going to last forever. There’s an old saying in politics that “time for a change” sentiment really peaks towards the end of a party’s 12th term, and Prentice’s handling of the gay rights debate last week showed he is just as adept at creating problems for himself as his predecessor. With oil prices cratering, the PCs will soon find themselves facing difficult fiscal decisions.

This wasn’t a case of “if you can’t beat them, join ‘em”. True, the Alberta PCs are the longest serving government in Canadian history for a reason, but Smith could have won, had she chosen to stay and fight.

She chose not to. Maybe she was tired. Maybe the perks of an eventual Cabinet position were too much to pass up. Regardless of the reason, there’s one inescapable conclusion. When you make as much noise as Smith did about a government being tired and corrupt – and then join them - it’s clear you never really believed in your convictions as much as you claimed to.

In that respect, she’ll be right at home in her new party.

Don Iveson will stand the test of time

Posted on6 October 2014 | 0 comments

Dammit Jim, I'm a doctor not a politician!

Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor not a politician!

Naheed Nenshi has built a reputation as Canada’s coolest mayor, at least among young progressives. He’s big on the Twitter. He’s hip (by politician standards). He’s funny (by politician standards). He shatters the (unfair) stereotype of Calgary as Canada’s redneck wasteland.

However, Nenshi may have competition from Calgary’s rival city.

While Calgary broke barriers by electing Canada’s first Muslim mayor, Edmonton broke barriers last fall with the election of Don Ivesion – Canada’s first openly Nerd mayor.

I crossed paths with Iveson a few times when I was at the University of Alberta. I remember bumping into him on the bus shortly after he’d been elected to council so I asked him how the job was treating him. He deadpanned a two minute story to set up a West Wing punchline (“Crime. Boy, I don’t know”). That shouldn’t have surprised me from a guy who tweets West Wing quotes, borrows Bartlet campaign tactics, and even played episodes at his campaign office. While this undoubtedly makes him a political nerd, you don’t need Joey Lucas’ polling to tell you everyone who works in politics has given a “Let Bartlet Be Bartlet” speech, or taken a “which west wing character are you” quiz…over and over, until it gave you the answer you wanted (“Will Bailey? That can’t be right. I’m totally a Josh.”).

No, what sets Iveson apart is that he breaks free of political nerd culture, boldly going where few politicians have gone before – into full blown nerd culture. Case in point, from Edmonton’s Comic & Entertainment Expo:

Iveson

Iveson took the opportunity to deliver a speech about the future of the city to a room of people who I would imagine spend a lot more time watching Battlestar Galactica reruns than Power & Politics. By coming in costume and warming up the crowd, he caused ears to perk up on important municipal issues – and not just because many were dressed as vulcans. A few will roll their eyes when they see the pictures, but Iveson instantly connected with hundreds of voters. Consider this the final frontier of micro-targeting.

The lack of a starship on this public transit graph as a glaring omission.

The lack of a starship on this public transit graph was a glaring omission.

This past week, the Mayor was in fine form again, using an analogy from the Civilization computer game to express the need for infrastructure investment (no word on whether he felt this should take priority over defense spending to fend off barbarian uprisings). Once again, he used a little geek charm to liven up a dry topic, thereby winning the eternal devotion of anyone who has ever said “one more turn” until the wee hours of the morning.

I have no idea what’s next for Iveson. Tardis phone booths in Edmonton? An anti-zombie fence around City Hall? Subcontracting law enforcement services out to Batman?

Regardless, Don Iveson has injected some fun into Edmonton municipal politics, giving Ontario progressives (at least us nerdier ones) yet another Alberta Mayor to be envious of.

The Rob Anders Rejection Tour Continues

Posted on20 September 2014 | 5 comments

Rob Anders, hard at work

Rob Anders, hard at work

I know I said I wouldn’t blog much over the next year, but if I have to come on here every time Rob Anders loses a nomination, I’m going to run out of bandwidth.

Here was Rob back in July, on his decision to seek the CPC nomination in Bow River:

“I really feel that [Bow River] is the Alberta I moved to in the 1980s. It’s a place with more trucks, and it certainly wouldn’t have elected someone like Naheed Nenshi, or other liberals pretending to be Conservatives these days. I feel a real connection. I find the people there are actually very sympathetic. They’re real Conservatives and you certainly feel that. There’s a strong pro-life movement going on in this riding, all sorts of hunting and shooting ranges.”

Today Anders was defeated by Martin Shields, who I can only assume is a secret Liberal. I mean, the guy doesn’t even own a truck.

After being rejected in Bow River, the question now becomes where Rob turns next. Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, who signed the nomination papers for a candidate who said gays would “burn in a fiery lake for eternity“, has already said “thanks, but no thanks” to Rob, gently suggesting he move to the private sector. There is the upcoming Yellowhead by-election, but that’s a riding that elected “secret Liberal” Joe Clark four times. So scratch that.

If only there were a group of voters who would “never elect someone like Naheed Nenshi”, longing for a leader cut from Rob’s cloth.

Sadly, the deadline to run for Mayor of Toronto has passed, so this might very well be the end of Rob Anders.

43 year old government proposes term limits

Posted on25 August 2014 | 1 comments

A future Jim Prentice caucus?

A future Jim Prentice caucus?

An Alberta PC leadership race devoid of ideas has its first eye-catching policy.

Presumptive front-runner Jim Prentice has pledged limits of 2 terms on the Premier and 3 terms on MLAs. This no doubt comes in response to accusations the PC government has grown stale over time, though I would point out that many of their problems stem from the actions of a politician who became Premier after just three years as an MLA, before exiting in disgrace after winning a single election as Premier.

Meanwhile, I’d be very curious if Prentice feels his old boss, gunning for a fourth term as PM next year, is past his “best before” date. I’d also be curious if Prentice feels this is true of the following 13 MLAs who have endorsed him:

Moe Amery
Neil Brown
Pearl Calahasan
Wayne Cao
Alana DeLong
Yvonne Fritz
Hector Goudreau
Doug Griffiths
Doug Horner
Mary Anne Jablonski
Frank Oberle
Dave Rodney
George Rogers

Yes, they would all be grandfathered in under Prentice’s proposal, but this still comes across as a bit of a slap to their faces.

Truth be told, many of the names on that list likely have passed their best before date, but isn’t that up to voters to decide? Admittedly there are safe ridings, but as Rob Anders learned this spring, open nominations are a method of removing some rot, without forcing out good politicians.

This is nothing more than a gimmicky proposal that would merely drive experienced politicians out of office. The PCs need to change now, and by exempting current MLAs, this would not lead to any changes until long after Prentice leaves office.

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